Mississippi Fire Chief Sues for Reverse Discrimination

A Mississippi fire chief is among three local officials who claim they were fired by the city of Clarksdale last year on account of their race.

Fire Chief Obert Douglas along with Municipal Judge Joseph Cobb Gibbs, and City Attorney Curtis Boschert were fired on July 10, 2017, ten days after Mayor Chuck Espy took office. The decision was made by the mayor and city commissioners who voted strictly along racial lines. Two African American commissioners and Mayor Espy voted to fire the three men while two white commissioners voted not to. Each was replaced by an African American who they claim is less qualified.

Douglas, Gibbs and Boschert filed suit in US District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi alleging they were fired on account of their race. The men also claim they were fired without good cause in violation of the city charter, and a due process violation. From the complaint:

  • On July 1, 2017, Henry W. Espy III, a black male, assumed office as Mayor of Defendant Clarksdale, Mississippi.
  • On several occasions Mayor Espy made statements concerning the race of the Clarksdale department heads and that the races did not reflect the community.
  • On July 10, 2017, by a vote of the two black commissioners’ “aye” and two white commissioners’ “nay” with Mayor Henry W. Espy III, also black, breaking the tie with a vote of “aye,” the Board of Commissioners terminated the employment of Plaintiff Obert Douglas as Fire Chief and hired as his replacement C. W. Grayson as interim Fire Chief; terminated the employment of Plaintiff Curtis D. Boschert by hiring Larry Lewis as interim City Attorney; and terminated the employment of Plaintiff Joseph Cobb Gibbs by hiring Derrick Hopson as Municipal Judge.
  • On September 11, 2017, Rocky Nabors was hired by the Defendant as the permanent Fire Chief.
  • Plaintiff Douglas is Caucasian; Plaintiff Gibbs is Caucasian; Plaintiff Boschert is Caucasian.
  • The Fire Chief who replaced Plaintiff Obert Douglas, Rocky Nabors, is black. The City Attorney who replaced Curtis D. Boschert, Margarette Meeks, is black. The City Judge who replaced Plaintiff Joseph Cobb Gibbs, Derrick Hopson, is black.
  • Plaintiff Douglas is more qualified for the job of Fire Chief than Rocky Nabors.
  • Plaintiff Boschert is more qualified for the job of City Attorney than Margarette Meeks.
  • Plaintiff Gibbs is more qualified for the job of Municipal Attorney than Derrick Hopson.
  • Clarksdale’s Special Charter holds that Clarksdale employees such as Plaintiffs may be terminated from their employment only for good cause.
  • There absolutely was no good cause shown to justify the termination of the employment of Plaintiff Douglas and/or Plaintiff Gibbs and/or Plaintiff Boschert.
  • All three Plaintiffs performed exemplary work for the City of Clarksdale.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Douglas et al v City of Clarksdale Mississippi

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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